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England can take some learning from an ODI series that too few fans wanted or watched

image-lascfl1mAUS vs ENG (Source: Twitter)

Yesterday I resolved to write something positive about the Australia and England ODI series. Honestly, I did. Although by the time the teams had arrived in Melbourne, we were at ‘dead rubber’ stage, I reasoned that England could not be as poor a third time and Australia with the series won, would rest key players. I was wrong. 

A contractual obligation it may have been for broadcasters, as well as a debt repaid by the ECB to Cricket Australia after the three-game ODI series in Manchester during the pandemic, this series did at least offer players on both sides the chance to put their hands up for next year's World Cup in India. 

Unwanted and largely unwatched by the English cricket public, poorly attended by Australian fans and coming just four days after England’s magnificent WT20 win, allowing them little or no celebration time and of course with many eyes now focused on Qatar and the football World Cup. Australia’s victory and England’s pitiful subsidence will have gone largely under the radar. 

Furthermore, there does seem to be a growing sense that with Test cricket seen as the pinnacle of the game, as well as a highly significant financial contributor and T20 further expanding globally to capture the attention of old and young alike, if something has to give, then it is the one-day format. Look no further than the totemic Ben Stokes, captain of England’s resurgent Test team and a leader by example for the T20 side, he has publicly called time on his ODI career. The demands made on players, he pointedly reasoned were simply too great. And how England missed his combative spirit here. No wonder Matthew Mott has been making overtures to Stokes for him to reconsider. I would not bet money that happening. 

All of that said, Australia were ruthlessly professional throughout, whilst England looked genuinely like a team wishing they were somewhere else. Moeen Ali had already voiced as much and others, whilst perhaps not as openly critical, scarcely looked as switched on or battle ready as Matthew Mott would have wanted, if not expected, them to be. 

With “seagulls outnumbering patrons as the final wickets fell” at the MCG as Geoff Lemon wryly observed in The Guardian, England folded like a pack of cards to their largest ever ODI defeat. Travis Head and David Warner had looked like beating their own record of 284 for Australia’s highest opening ODI partnership. With 269, they fell just short, but it set up a total that England never for a moment looked like challenging. 

So, what ‘positives’ or at least learnings can England take? The greatest interest will have been on the fringe players looking to make a case for themselves, or those that needed to reinforce positions already held. 

image-lascgxa7David Willey (Source: AP Newsroom)

If Jason Roy had wanted to use this series to find form, then despite some doggedness at the MCG he didn’t. When he walked across his crease to fall to Cummins, he had raised his series average to just 12. Runs for Surrey in an English summer will be needed and perhaps should have been the plan all along instead of this. 

Dawid Malan would have played in the T20 final had fitness permitted. His excellent hundred at Adelaide suggests he should be a fixture in England’s white-ball set-up, despite concerns around his scoring rate. Failures at Sydney and Melbourne looked more like the innings of a man who felt his point had already been made, rather than one desperate to make one. 

James Vince remains a polarising enigma. A delight to his supporters, a frustration to his detractors. His single fine innings at Sydney won’t have won over the detractors and perhaps maybe a few supporters will have lost a little faith. 

Sam Billings has pulled out of the IPL to focus on longer formats and to devote more time to Kent. On his day he is both entertaining and explosive as well as a capable keeper. Along with Vince, he shone just once at Sydney. Neither a compelling case nor enough evidence for a complete loss of faith. 

Liam Dawson, one felt, was definitely in the ‘needs to excel’ camp. He didn’t and economy rates and strike rates of over 80 and over 50 do not yet make a good comparison with Adil Rashid. 

David Willey has every right to feel unlucky. He has, after all, missed out on both England’s world cup triumphs. He wielded a bat to good effect at Adelaide and took 4 wickets with reasonable economy too. He will continue to be in the mix, without really making himself the first choice.

Finally, despite his four wickets at the MCG, it is questionable whether Ollie Stone, advanced his case. However, he has a commodity in genuine pace that England crave and those four wickets may have been enough to encourage England’s management to persist further, at least as they remain uncertain of Jofra Archer’s future across all formats. 

But was all this learning enough to justify the series? From a fan’s perspective, probably not.

Also Read: Are we living in the last age of ODI Cricket as MCG holds a poor attendance?